Just How Fashionable Are Poldark’s Ladies? Part 1

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When you listen to our podcast (coming next week) on Poldark (2015), the “hot men scything in late 18th-century Cornwall” miniseries currently airing in the US on PBS, you’ll hear that I had some questions about the women’s costumes. Mostly, they can be summed up as “relatively good generic late 18th century,” catching some of the trends of the later 1780s, but missing others. I thought it would be interesting to compare the costumes worn by Poldark‘s women to contemporary images (i.e., to the time and place of Poldark). Today, we’ll look at the upper-est class ladies: Elizabeth, Verity, and (permanent bitchface neighbor) Ruth Teague. In future posts, I’ll tackle the older generation (Mrs. Chenowyth, Mrs. Teague, and Aunt Agatha), then the slightly-less-fancy Demelza, Keren, and Margaret (I’m leaving Demelza til last, so as to avoid more spoilers for Americans).

The first series (now airing in the US on PBS) starts in 1783 and covers a few years (the first book is specifically 1783-87, not sure how the TV series matches with that end date).

Spoiler warning: I’m NOT going to give away any plot points, but I WILL be showing outfits from episodes that haven’t yet aired in America. So, if you prefer to be surprised by new outfits, then I’d suggest waiting to read this post until after the series finishes.

 

Fashionable English Dress of the Mid-1780s

Fashion in England in this period was in a time of transition. Gone was the Rococo frilliness of the mid-century French styles. “English” dress was all the rage — even in France, which was enamored of the more country way of living in England. Practical dress worn for riding, hunting, and other outdoorsy pursuits influenced women’s fashionable clothing, which became much more streamlined, tailored, and menswear-inspired.

Mid-century Rococo frilliness | 1780s menswear-inspired François Boucher - Portrait of Marquise de Pompadour, 1759 George Haugh - The Countess of Effingham with Gun and Shooting Dogs, 1787

Mid-century Rococo frilliness | 1780s menswear-inspired
Portrait of Marquise de Pompadour by François Boucher, 1759, Wallace Collection
The Countess of Effingham with Gun and Shooting Dogs by George Haugh, 1787, Yale Center for British Art

Of course, those outfits aren’t being worn for the same occasion. We can also compare Madame de Pompadour (on the left, above) with Mrs. Hallet below. They did get frilly in the 1780s, but when they did, it looked more like this:

454px-Mr_and_Mrs_William_Hallett

Mr. and Mrs. William Hallett (“The Morning Walk”) by Thomas Gainsborough, 1785, The National Gallery

Now, before you go getting stressed, yes I know:

  1. Poldark is set in Cornwall. We’re in the middle of nowhere here.
  2. Nobody (among the upper classes) in Poldark is doing well financially.
  3. Hey, at least there are no few back-laced bodices to annoy us! I’m not complaining, just edifying.

So to compare the most upper-class of ladies in Poldark, I tried to find imagery that might reflect women who weren’t the pinnacle of English society (not the queens, duchesses, even countesses or any titled ladies) but instead those of a more modest sort. I have had to include a few images that stretch these boundaries, just to make a few points.

All this being said, it’s not a high-resolution image, but I’d like to offer this:

Jack Ratlin's Tavern, Portsmouth, by Thomas Rowlandson, 1784-6

Jack Ratlin’s Tavern, Portsmouth, by Thomas Rowlandson, 1784-6

Portsmouth isn’t in Cornwall, but it is a town on the southern coast of England, and this is right in the appropriate date range. This is a cartoon, so nothing is super realistic, but you can still get a sense of the wardrobes of a nice cross-section of people. For now, notice the well-dressed lady in white on the left — she’s very much wearing the same kinds of things seen in contemporary paintings and fashion plates. Compare her with Catherine Clemens, painted in 1788, and you’ll see parallels in terms of silhouette, the color white, the long sleeves, the sash, and the large hat.

George Romney - Catherine Clemens 1788

Catherine Clemens by George Romney, 1788, Neue Pinakothek

But let’s get a lot more specific, shall we?

1780s Fashion Basics

The prototypical dress style of the 1780s in England was called a “nightgown” (Buck, Dress in Eighteenth-Century England, 45). No, this wasn’t worn for sleeping or even for evening, it was simply the term used. It’s better known today by its French name, the “robe à l’anglaise.”

The nightgown or anglaise has the following common features. There were lots of variations, so read all of this with “usually” inserted, and I’ll get to the variations in a bit.

In front, the nightgown had a fitted bodice with a low scoop neckline and V waist. It closed in front, often overlapping at the center front. The sleeves could be elbow- or wrist-length (a newer style), and were relatively fitted to the arm. The skirt was pleated to the waistline of the bodice, and fell to the ankles; it was open in front to show an underskirt called a petticoat.

Picture 010

The nightgown front.
Robe à l’Anglaise, British, 1776
Robe à l’Anglaise, American, 1785-95. Both from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In back, the neckline was higher and could be either squared off or rounded. The bodice waistline came to a V point. It could either be cut totally separate from the skirt (as on the right, a newer style) or with a pleated center back that connected into the skirt (as on the left, an older style — today we call this “en fourreau,” but it’s not a period term) (Waugh, Cut of Women’s Clothes, 72).

Picture 002

The nightgown back.
Robe à l’Anglaise, British, 1776
Robe à l’Anglaise, American, 1785-95

If we look more specifically at ladies from about (or slightly above) the class level of Poldark‘s upper-class ladies, you will see many wearing nightgowns.

basic day dresses

Upper-class ladies in nightgowns.
Lady Jane Mathew and Her Daughters, 1790, Yale Center for British Art
Old Lady with Magnifying Glass by John Downman, LACMA
Colonel Blair with his Family and an Indian Ayah by Johan Zoffany, 1786, Tate Britain

Poldark‘s highest class of ladies — Elizabeth, Verity, and Ruth Teague — all wear this style. Interestingly, it seems to frequently be reserved for the more elegant occasions: parties and balls.

Elizabeth wears a nightgown in her flashback 1770s scenes (center), as well as for a dance (left) and party (right).

verity nightgowns

Both of Verity’s formal dresses are cut in this style as well.

In general, dresses of the late 18th century overlapped and then pinned closed in the center front (Waugh, 77). Most of Poldark‘s upper class dresses do the same, except…

There is one upper-class dress in Poldark that laces shut in front, worn by Ruth Teague at a party:

laced front

Ruth’s first party dress. Sorry about the dorky facial expression. I was screencapping costumes, not faces!

I can count on one hand the number of laced-front bodice 1780s dresses — two in fact (although if there’s two, there’s probably more):

natmus

Center front laced bodices.
English (style?) dress, 1780s, National Museum of Denmark
Dress, 1780-85, Museum of London

Unfortunately two (Elizabeth’s striped party dresses) have a back-laced closure, which just wasn’t ever done in the period. It makes no logical sense to close a dress in back when it has an open skirt in front, and 18th-century people were all about logic.

Back-laced dresses on two of Elizabeth’s party gowns (1 and 2). Separate bodice and skirt on all four party dresses (3 is Elizabeth, 4 is Verity).

Another variation worth noting at this point is what we modernly call a “roundgown.” This is a dress that does NOT have a separate underskirt. Instead, it has a “fall front” or “apron front”: The one skirt is sewn to the bodice from side front, around back, to side front. The front is attached to a separate waistband, and there are openings at each side front so you can lower the front of the top of the skirt to get into it (Buck, 45). (Need a visual? Check Thread-Headed Snippet‘s roundgown entry.) Here are two 1780s roundgowns:

roundgowns

“Roundgowns”
Dress (robe à l’anglaise), England, c. 1785, Kyoto Costume Institute
Ensemble, American, c. 1775, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Many of Elizabeth and Verity’s more everyday dresses seem to be made in this style (it’s possible they’re just being worn with matching petticoats, but I can’t see the line of an overskirt):

roundgowns front

Probable “roundgowns” on Elizabeth (1-3) and Verity (4). All these dresses are worn in casual, at-home situations.

At least one of these (Elizabeth’s blue woven floral dress) is cut with the all-in-one center back bodice/skirt discussed above. The rest of the dresses have the fully separate bodice and skirt.

Roundgown from the back, with a pleated center back bodice, and no seam between the bodice and skirt, only at the center back.

One of Elizabeth’s roundgowns from the back. It has a pleated center back bodice, and no seam between the bodice and skirt, only at the center back.

We’ll talk a lot more about different dress styles in a minute, but first I want to talk about something important: silhouette!

18th-Century Silhouette & Underpinnings Vs. the Poldark Ladies

The biggest weirdness (and no, I’m not claiming this is a “jump up and down and set the thing on fire” issue), is the skirt silhouettes. I assume the filmmakers wanted to keep things simple and streamlined to show that we’re out in the sticks and don’t have a lot of cash flow, but as you’ll see, the skirt silhouette of the 1780s was much larger than you see on screen in Poldark. Here’s a range of paintings showing upper-middle- to upper-class British women to illustrate:

The Oliver and Ward Families by Francis Wheatley, c. 1778, Yale Center for British Art
The Saithwaite Family by Francis Wheatley, c. 1785, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Elizabeth Ford, later Lady Colville of Culross by John Downman, 1785, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Eleanor and Margaret Ross by Alexander Nasmyth, 1785-90, Yale Center for British Art
The Fourdrinier Family by John Downman, c. 1786, National Portrait Gallery

That’s not to say you don’t ever see a narrower silhouette (like the fourth image), but even that is still fuller than Poldark‘s ladies:

silhouettes

Even Elizabeth, top of the top, wears very narrow skirts. These are all fancy-occasion/evening dresses, but still very slim.

In the 1780s, wider skirts was accomplished primarily by wearing what was called a “rump” or “bum,” a stuffed or cork pad worn around the hips to floof out the skirts (Late 18th-Century Skirt Supports). The caricature “The Bum Shop” completely over-exaggerates the shapes, but you can at least see the variety of items that were worn under skirts for a larger hip shape.

"The Bum Shop," 1785

The Bum Shop, 1785

They also wore more than one petticoat and/or quilted petticoats, and they used crisper fabrics for a bouffant effect.

Of course, dresses of this era were worn over what we today would call “corsets,” and they would call “stays.” These are boned, sleeveless garments that shape the torso into the smooth cone shape typical of the period:

Stays, 1770-90, Victoria & Albert Museum

Stays, 1770-90, Victoria & Albert Museum

Clearly Poldark‘s upper-class ladies are wearing stays with a good silhouette, and that’s an important point in their favor!

18th-Century Fabrics & Prints in Poldark‘s Costumes

While some of Poldark‘s upper-class wardrobes are in solids, there are also a number that are in prints or woven patterns. All three options were fashionable in the 1780s, so let’s get more specific.

Cotton (and occasionally linen) prints were hugely popular in this era (18th-Century Printed Cotton Fabrics). Due to the dyes and methods available, they were usually in shades of red or blue (which could range through purple and brown), although you do sometimes see other colors like yellow or green. White or cream was the most usual background, but they could also have colored backgrounds. They generally came in one of three motifs: trailing vines with small flowers, individual floral sprigs, or busy floral prints.

Trailing motifs with wavy vines and small flowers.
Robe à l’Anglaise, 1785-95, American, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Dress, c. 1780, Netherlands
Pet-en-l’air, 1780-90, Manchester Galleries
A lady’s open robe and petticoat of white linen, 1770-1780s, Christie’s

Sprig motifs with individual spaced-out flowers.
Mrs. Pelham Feeding Her Chickens, after Joshua Reynolds, 1775, Art Institute of Chicago
Gown, 1785, England, Manchester Galleries
Elizabeth Bridget Armitstead by John Smart, Christie’s

Busy floral prints with tightly spaced all-over flowers.
Printed Cotton Open Gown, 1780s, England, Charles A. Whitaker Auction
Gown, 1780-85, England, Manchester Galleries

It’s interesting to note that Elizabeth only wears a cotton print in her flashback, 1770s scenes. Verity is frequently in dull, beige-y cotton prints that work to make her look wallpaper-y.

cotton-prints

Elizabeth’s flashback gown, plus Verity’s two beige print gowns, both look great for the period.

There are two prints that I question:

cotton-prints2

Ruth’s super faded print looks like it’s ready for the rag bin, and the colors on Verity’s party dress just scream “couch!” to me (and not in a good way).

Of course, there were patterns in other kinds of fabric. The older, more established (and fading) fashion was for floral woven patterned silks. These tended to come in similar patterns to the cotton prints, particularly sprigs and trailing florals:

Woven patterns.
Dress fabric, 1775-80, England, Victoria & Albert Museum
Robe à l’Anglaise, 1770-75, British, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Robe à l’Anglaise, 1776, British, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Both Elizabeth and Verity wear woven patterned fabric in small florals, which aren’t horrible but aren’t quite the look of the period. Elizabeth also has a circular floral print that seems couch-y to me.

The first three are Elizabeth (the burgundy one is the circular floral that I don’t love), and the 4th and 5th are Verity.

Woven stripes were also hugely popular in the 1780s (Rothstein, Four Hundred Years of Fashion, 30). They nicely accented the fitted, streamlined fashions:

Striped fabrics.
Jacket (“pierrot”), c. 1790, France, Kyoto Costume Institute
A lady’s open robe of striped silk taffeta, c. 1790, probably French, Christie’s
Gown, 1775-80, England, Victoria & Albert Museum
Dress fabric, 1780-85, England, Victoria & Albert Museum

Poldark picks up on this trend for its upper-class ladies, particularly for Ruth:

Elizabeth, Verity, then three of Ruth’s ensembles.

Dress fabrics could also be embroidered. In general, these followed the sprig and trailing florals seen in prints, but there were sometimes embroidered borders as well:

Robe à l’anglaise, 1770-90, Musée Galliera
Woman’s Robe à l’anglaise Ensemble, 1780-90, England, LACMA
Gown, 1765-80, England, Victoria & Albert Museum
Robe, 1780-5, France, Victoria & Albert Museum

Both Elizabeth and Verity have nicely embroidered fancy dresses (and I appreciate that they avoided the modern upholstery fabrics seen so frequently these days, like in Farewell, My Queen!):

embroidered fabrics

Elizabeth’s dress is embroidered with trailing florals (left), and Verity’s in sprigs (right).

18th-Century Costume Details & Variations Seen in Poldark

As in any era, there are a number of variations seen in fashionable styles. Poldark nicely captures a few of them and misses a few others:

Menswear Inspiration: Taking their cue from Englishwomen’s riding and sports clothes, menswear-inspired clothing became all the rage for daily wear (Ribeiro, Art of Dress, 68). Women wore riding habits for fashionable daywear, as well as redingotes and dresses and jackets with menswear-inspired details. The “redingote” is a dress that was styled on a man’s coat (“redingote” comes from the French corruption of “riding coat”). It’s a dress with tailored stylings, often made from more menswear-ish fabrics.

Riding habits.
The Sharp Family by Johann Zoffany, 1779-81
Vauxhall Gardens, after Thomas Gainsborough, 1785
Portrait of a Lady seated under a Tree by John Downman, The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology
The Anglers’ Repast by George Morland, 1789, Yale Center for British Art

Top row: riding habits. Bottom row: redingotes.   Top row: The Sharp Family by Johann Zoffany, 1779-81 | Vauxhall Gardens, after Thomas Gainsborough, 1785 | Portrait of a Lady seated under a Tree by John Downman, The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology | The Anglers' Repast by George Morland, 1789, Yale Center for British Art   Bottom row: The Squire's Door by George Morland, c. 1790, Yale Center for British Art | Morning dress of the year 1785 by Ann Frankland Lewis, LACMA | A Party Angling by George Morland, 1789, Yale Center for British Art

Redingotes.
The Squire’s Door by George Morland, c. 1790, Yale Center for British Art
Morning dress of the year 1785 by Ann Frankland Lewis, LACMA
A Party Angling by George Morland, 1789, Yale Center for British Art

Elizabeth has one redingote in dull purple and one in blue, both in velvet, while Verity has one in grey stripes, and Ruth Teague one in grey-blue. It might be nice if they had included a riding habit too, just for variety, but redingotes are the newer (and hugely popular) fashion, so I’m not complaining (Ribeiro, Art of Dress, 67).

redingotes front

Redingotes on Elizabeth, Verity, and Ruth.

redingotes back

Elizabeth and Verity’s redingotes from the back.

Verity’s redingote in particular reminds me of this one at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art:

verity4a

Center: Woman’s Redingote, c. 1790, Europe, LACMA

Then there’s Ruth’s stripey dress, which is sort-of redingote-y:

ruth6

This is a rewear of one originally worn in Aristocrats, but also in many other productions. I admit, I love it!

It reminds me a lot of this jacket and petticoat at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts:

sl10772.fpx&obj=iip,1.0&wid=960&cvt=jpeg

Woman’s dress, about 1785-90, French, Boston Museum of Fine Arts

The one element missing from Poldark‘s menswear styles is what should be worn underneath, which was a high-necked shirt and cravat in a men’s style (Blackman, “Walking Amazons”):

(c) Enfield Museum Service; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

High-necked, men’s style shirt with ruffles and cravat.
Miss Beloe by John Downman, Enfield Museum Service

The (so-called) “zone front“*: in which there is a separate overbodice front piece that slopes away from the center front neckline out to the waist, showing an underbodice (“waistcoat”). This cutaway style was hugely popular in the 1780s, and could either indicate a specific dress style that was cut with this line (like the robe à la polonaise), or could simply be added as a menswear touch to a nightgown, riding habit, redingote, etc. (The 18th-Century Robe à la Polonaise).

*Because it’s my life’s work, I need to clearly state that the term “zone” is entirely modern! There’s no period term to describe this style, other than an “open” bodice or dress (but earlier, V-shaped openings over stomachers — like on a française — were also called “open.” So, we’re screwed. I’m going to call it “cutaway” here as a shorthand).

zone front

Dresses and jackets with cutaway overbodices.
Family group by James Millar, 1774-80, Yale Center for British Art
The Oliver and Ward Families by Francis Wheatley, c. 1778, Yale Center for British Art
The Sharp Family by Johann Zoffany, 1779-81, National Portrait Gallery

Harriet Milles by John Downman, 1780
Jacket (“pierrot”), c. 1790, France, Kyoto Costume Institute

Aside from Verity’s redingote, the cutaway overbodice style is particularly worn on Poldark‘s upper-class ladies on their fancier dresses. I’m thinking the filmmakers saw it as an extra detail that would set these apart from the more everyday?

zone

All the dresses from the left to center are Elizabeth’s. The two green dresses are Ruth’s, and the stripey dress is Verity’s.

Jackets were hugely popular in the 1780s (Ribeiro, Art of Dress, 69). Ruth is the only one of Poldark‘s upper-class ladies to get one, meaning this style is under-represented in Poldark‘s upper-class wardrobes:

ruth7

Ruth’s jacket, a rewear of this one originally from Garrow’s Law. Super cute, there just needs to be more of them!

Two of Verity’s dresses have the kind of little tails you might expect to see on jackets. They’re cute but kind of random:

verity tails

Verity’s dresses with tails at the bodice waistline in back.

And then Verity has her sort-of Brunswick, sort-of caraco à la polonaise. Here we go — a “Brunswick” was a hooded, high-necked, long-sleeved traveling ensemble most popular in the 1760s (18th-Century Brunswicks and Jesuits); it would be on its way out of fashion in the 1780s. The caraco à la polonaise is a hip-length jacket cut without a waist seam, with the cutaway front and waistcoat (aka “zone” [shudder]) described above (The 18th Century Robe à la Polonaise).

The Brunswick style is on the left, and the caraco à la polonaise in the center/right.
Lady Mary Fox by Batoni, 1767
Caraco à la Polonaise, 1775-1799, Palazzo Mocenigo

Verity’s ensemble looks like a mash-up between these two. It doesn’t have the cutaway (zone) front of the Palazzo Mocenigo ensemble, but otherwise is similarly cut (and its use of matelassé, a quilted fabric, is reminiscent of the Mocenigo polonaise’s quilted fabric). It does have the hood seen on the Brunswick, but hoods were frequently added to polonaises in the period.

verity9

Verity’s Brunswick/polonaise jacket.

Sheer gowns: Sheer dresses were massively popular in this era. The trend started with the robe en chemise, a sheer, gathered, cotton dress (usually white) that derived from styles worn in the Caribbean (What Is a Chemise à la Reine, Anyway?). This led to a trend for numerous styles made from sheer cottons, often in white (and relatively impractical for cold English weather, but what we do for fashion, eh?):

white sheer

On the left is a true “chemise” gown. The other dresses are examples of sheer dresses.
Frances Beresford by Hoppner, 1784-5
Margot Wheatley by Francis Alleyne, 1786
Eleanor and Margaret Ross by Alexander Nasmyth, 1785-90
Robe à l’anglaise, 1770-90, Musée Galliera

There’s one dress that picks up on this trend in Poldark: one of Verity’s party dresses. It’s a really interesting dress in a pale pink cotton with gathered center front bodice, little tails in back, and a gathered ruffle along the skirt openings. I can’t think of any specific styles that this resembles, but there were enough variations — and sheer, gathered dresses were popular enough — that this checks out for me. (I also love that Verity gets the most interesting dress in the series!)

verity3

Verity’s sheer party dress.

Looped up skirts: Called “retroussée” in French, but without any specific term in England, overskirts were often worn draped “up” or “back” in the 1780s. This trend really took off in the 1770s with the popularity of the robe à la polonaise, but could be worn with just about any style (The 18th-Century Robe à la Polonaise). It was fading in the 1780s, and a long, trained look was more à la mode.

Dresses worn with the skirts looped up.
A Lady and Her Children Relieving a Cottager by William Redmore Bigg, 1781, Philadelphia Museum of Art
Vauxhall Gardens, after Thomas Gainsborough, 1785, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Two details from The Westminster Election by Robert Dighton, 1788, Museum of London

Since it was a style on the way out, it makes some sense that we don’t see it too often in Poldark. Both Ruth and Elizabeth have formal dresses worn looped up, which makes dancing easier (something noted in 18th-century fashion magazines). Verity’s redingote skirt is up (getting the skirt out of the way for riding?).

Elizabeth’s formal dress, Elizabeth’s ballgown, Verity’s redingote, Ruth’s party dress.

Stomachers: Dresses with stomachers were fashionable from the early part of the 18th century through the 1770s. Both the sack (or “robe à la française” in French) and the nightgown were usually worn with an open, V front bodice over a fill-in called a “stomacher” during these years (Waugh, 69). Here’s this earlier style of nightgown:

 

2015HL7987_jpg_l

A typical nightgown of the 1750-70s, missing its stomacher, which would fill in the center front bodice gap.
Gown, 1775-80, England, Victoria & Albert Museum

Here’s what that stomacher would look like:

The stomacher generally matched the gown in terms of fabric and trim.

The stomacher generally matched the gown in terms of fabric and trim.
Stomacher from a Sack Back, 1760-75, England, Victoria & Albert Museum

This is worth mentioning because Ruth wears a dress in this style to a party later in the season. It’s not implausible — I’m sure there were still stomacher gowns kicking around in the 1780s — but it is a bit dated, and thus seems inappropriate for such a (comparatively) fashion-forward character:

ruth8

Ruth at an evening party. I do love the color scheme!

Mourning wear: While we tend to associate the whole “black worn for mourning” thing with the Victorians, 18th-century people also did the same (although the rules weren’t quite as detailed and stringent). I wrote about this more in one of my Outlander posts, so check that out if you’re interested!

Maria Walpole by Thomas Gainsborough, 1763

A woman dressed for mourning.
Maria Walpole by Thomas Gainsborough, 1763

There is a funeral (I’m not saying whose!) in Poldark, and various characters are appropriately dressed in black.

verity10

Verity in a black mourning dress.

Maternity wear: There isn’t a ton of information out there about pregnancy wear, so I’m not going to get too hardcore about this. Mostly I wanted to make the point that they did, of course, get pregnant, and so they did, of course, have clothes that accommodated this (Baumgarten, What Clothes Reveal, 152-4)!

Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 6.45.49 PM

Maternity Ensemble, 1780-1795, Britain, Colonial Williamsburg

Thus, when Elizabeth gets Very Pregnant, and is recovering from childbirth, her loose gowns seem very appropriate to me.

maternity

Elizabeth: very pregnant (left), just post-childbirth (right).

18th-Century Accessories on Poldark‘s Ladies

Although the trend for ruffle and flowers and delicate Rococo elements had passed, the 1780s were All About Froof in the form of poufy fichus, gauzy aprons, and big ruffly caps or hair accessories. They were also big fans of wide, contrasting color sashes:

cropped to image, recto, unframed

Various hats, fichus, sleeve ruffles, aprons, and more on upper-class English ladies.
All of these images are cited in various places above.

This is the other miss in Poldark — while there are some small fichus, and occasional hat-wearing, there’s little-to-no froof, frills, gauze, poufs, sashes, and the other requisite accessories.

everyday accessories

Various (restrained) accessories (mostly hats!) on Poldark’s upper-class ladies during the day.

fancy accessories

Simple accessories worn for evening.

 

So, that’s my rundown on the most upper-class of ladies in Poldark. Stay tuned for my future looks at the older generation, followed by the middle-class ladies!

Works (not online) Cited

Baumgarten, Linda. What Clothes Reveal: the Language of Clothing in Colonial and Federal America. Williamsburg, Va.: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 2002.

Blackman, Callie. “Walking Amazons: The Development of the Riding Habit in England During the Eighteenth Century.” Costume, Vol 35, 2001.

Buck, Anne. Dress in Eighteenth-Century England. New York: Holmes & Meier, 1979.

Ribeiro, Aileen. The Art of Dress: Fashion in England and France, 1750 to 1820. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995.

Rothstein, Natalie, ed. Four Hundred Years of Fashion. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1992.

Waugh, Norah. The Cut of Women’s Clothes, 1600-1930. New York : Theatre Arts Books, 1968.

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About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

14 Responses

  1. Veronica

    Wonderful as usual. I really feel the lack of a fichu or frill, the stark open necklines really pull focus knowing the esthetic. I’m about to start a Poldark petticoat fund for the poor dears.

    Reply
  2. Trystan L. Bass

    The lack of ribbons & feathers makes me sad — I mean, really, there are about 4 feathers to share among all the women in Cornwall! Sure hope Poldark strikes it rich in copper soon so they can import something pretty for the lay-deez ;-)

    Reply
    • Kendra

      I guess the problem is they’re poor enough that when they kill the chickens, they et the feathers too? Apparently an heiress shows up at some point in the future (not this season), which I for one am excited about!

      Reply
  3. Jennifer Redlarczyk

    What a great article. Thanks for all the research. I love costumes and period clothes. Jen Red

    Reply
  4. Rebecca

    Wasn’t that blue redingote on one of the ladies used in that german Schiller film “Beloved Sisters”?

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  5. Karen Rogers

    Thank u for that very thorough and informative post. Your example photos of actual garments are very helpful and fun. The inclusion of the V&A swatch notebook is fascinating! I want to go look at it!

    Reply
  6. Amy N.

    Excessively long shot here, but do you have any suggestions for where I might be able to find a pattern (or patterns that could be combined) to approximate Verity’s polonaise/Brunswick jacket? I have fallen completely in love with it.

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  7. Anne

    Can I just say from an ex BBC costume designers point of view there are always huge efforts made to get things right despite budgets not being what they once were. Costumes are recycled frequently. When the average period dress can cost over £1000 it makes sense. The costume hire companies in London like Angels and Cosprop take authenticity very seriously as do we all. And costumes do have to be kept clean or the artistes are unhappy. Yes we did often use curtain type fabrics as being the nearest in period style and to save money. Specialists may be picky about it but they can be dry cleaned! I well remember an actress dashing to the loo before a take in a particularly dirty farmyard and getting cow mess all over her skirt. We try we try dear viewer!

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  8. Clare Jenkinson

    Was googling as to what undergarments the Poldark ladies wore to get their beautiful shape, and I found this article.. Thank you for this knowledgeable article telling me so much more!

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